'Babi Yar massacre was to test reaction to Jewish genocide'

Rabbi Lau says had the world raised its voice in protest at cold-blooded murder of 33,771 Jews in Ukraine, Holocaust may have been curtailed.

Babi Yar 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Babi Yar 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who is a former Chief Rabbi of Israel and who was a child Holocaust survivor, theorized last Thursday that the massacre at Babi Yar in Kiev 70 years ago may have been an experiment by Hitler to test world reaction to the elimination of the Jewish people.
Had the world raised its voice in protest at this horrendous atrocity, Lau surmised, what ensued afterwards might not have happened, and many more Jews might have survived the Holocaust.
Lau was speaking at the Jerusalem Theater at the close of a day of memorial events marking the 70th anniversary of the cold-blooded murder of 33,771 Jews.
The major commemoration had taken place earlier in the day at Yad Vashem, where a wreath-laying ceremony had taken place in the Hall of Remembrance with the participation of Ukrainian-born Minister for Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs Yuli Edelstein; Ukrainian Minister of Culture Mykhailo Kulynyak; Lau; Chairman of the Yad Vashem Directorate Avner Shalev; Chairman of the Association of Ukrainian Immigrants David Levin; Michael Sidko, who as a child had been one of the few survivors of the Babi Yar massacre; Holocaust survivors; and immigrants from Ukraine.
After 70 years, said Lau, people still ask themselves how such a mass murder could have taken place. It was not a murder that was carried out in the concentration camps or the forests beyond the public eye. It happened where everyone could see it “and the world did nothing.”
Retrospectively, said Lau, when he thought about it, he realized that the Babi Yaar massacre had taken place prior to the January 1942 Wannsee Conference, at which the top Nazi command had discussed the final solution to the Jewish problem.
Babi Yar, he said, may have given Hitler the impetus to continue further.
In references to the Holocaust, said Lau, the death toll is always given in round numbers: six million Jews, including 1.5 million children.
But with regard to Babi Yar, he pointed out there is an exact figure of 33,771.
Very recently he said, he had encountered a woman in Tel Aviv who had given him a photograph of her five-yearold motherless cousin Ettie Asch, who had been among those whom the Nazis had so mercilessly shot.
Lau and nearly all the other speakers, whether talking in Russian or in Hebrew, noted that had there been a State of Israel when World War II erupted, the Jews of Europe would not have been defenseless and would have fought back as Israel has done whenever the country was under attack.
The two words that kept cropping up in addresses in both languages were catastrophe and tragedy.
Kulynyak told the large audience that he had come to Israel to assure them that nothing of this nature would ever again take place on Ukrainian soil.
Edelstein described the despicable brutality of Babi Yar as one of the great catastrophes of modern history.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in a video-taped message, said that he had been to Babi Yar during one of his visits to Ukraine and had been unable to understand how Jews could be slaughtered like cattle in their thousands in this one place. The only conclusion he could draw, he said, was that because Jews had lost their sovereignty, they had lost their ability to defend themselves.
This has changed since the establishment of the State of Israel, he said, and underscored that Michael Sidko, who had survived Babi Yar and had come to Israel and built a family, now had grandsons serving in the IDF.
President Shimon Peres, who like Netanyahu had also been to Babi Yar and had been equally horrified by the green lawns that camouflaged the barbarity embedded in the site, related how the naïve Jewish population in Kiev had been told to assemble near the cemetery at 8 a.m. on September 29, 1941, and to bring with them all documents, monies and valuables in their possession, as well as warm clothes and underwear.
The Jews thought that they were being exiled and transferred to some other place.
On September 29 and 30, the Nazis butchered more than 100,000 people in Ukraine – both Jews and non-Jews, said Peres. Most of the others were Soviet prisoners-of-war, gypsies, invalids and others whom the Nazis considered to be worthless.
The Nazis made it their business to remove all evidence of their barbarism, said Peres. They ordered forced laborers to burn the bodies.
There was nothing left as a reminder, and for years, there was no monument on the site.
Peres quoted from renowned Soviet poet Yevgeni Yevtushenko, who in 1961 published his poem Babi Yar in denunciation of Nazi and Russian anti-Semitism: “No monument stands over Babi Yar. A drop sheer as a crude grave stone I am afraid.
Today, I am as old As the entire Jewish race itself. Now I seem to be a Jew.”
“Yes, the Jewish race is old, but it has rejuvenated itself,” said Peres, adding that he hoped that the world had matured, and would not allow Nazism to resurface.
Yet in the same breath, Peres acknowledged that there are still dangerous extremists in the world for whom Hitler serves as a paradigm.
Babi Yar is but one example of the nature of Nazi atrocities, said Peres. There were many more, and the people of Germany applauded the madness of a single man.
Nazi soldiers “almost ecstatic in their hatred” unconscionably shot whole families – innocent men, women and children, raising their guns again and again without a twinge of mercy or remorse, said Peres.
Aside from the massacre at Babi Yar, the Nazis murdered a total of 900,000 Ukrainian Jews, he said.